By Chet Yarbrough
A Life of My Own
By: Claire Tomalin
Narrated by: Penelope Wilton
Claire Tomalin (British author and journalist.)
“A Life of My Own” introduces Claire Tomalin to those who do not know her. Born in London, and educated in English grammar schools, Tomalin graduates from the University of Cambridge to become a writer.
Tomalin meets and marries a fellow Cambridge student named Nicholas Tomalin who becomes a successful journalist. He is killed on assignment while reporting on the Arab Israeli war.
As a listener/reader one appreciates Tomlin’s writing. As a respected biographer, Tomalin illustrates the importance of honesty in writing about one’s life story.
Tomalin writes with candor and detail that make one believe what she writes. Tomalin has written several biographies of famous people like Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austin, and Samuel Pepys. References she makes to her research for earlier biographies assures listeners of her diligence in revealing her own life. How well we know ourselves is always a question, but the facts Tomalin reveals suggest she, like Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, is a woman of substance.
As with all who have lived a long life, Tomalin experiences good and bad fortune.
She is raised by a father and mother who love her but divorce. As a child growing up, Tomalin mostly lives with her mother who cares for her. However, as a single mother, the two undoubtedly struggle to make a living. Her father remains a part of Claire Tomalin’s life but seems only later to provide some level of trust and security in their relationship.
There seems a great deal of love but a sense of frailty and insecurity in Claire Tomlin’s life with her mother. Her mother is a musician and unpublished composer who works at odd jobs to support their life together. Most divorced wives recognize how difficult it is to lose one/half (usually more) of a family’s income when divorced.
Claire Tomalin’s life enters a new phase when she marries Nicholas Tomalin. Because of Nicholas’s job, he is away from home on assignments. Claire pursues her own career. They separate. They come back together. Nicholas is tragically killed while on a 1973 news assignment to report on the Arab Israeli war.
At some point in Claire Tomalin’s marriage, the man she married becomes physically abusive. Tomalin explains her husband is a bon vivant who attracts other women’s attention.
Claire Tomalin is left with five children, three daughters and two sons. She publishes her first book in 1974 (“The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft). She becomes the literary editor for the “New Statesman” and “The Sunday Times”. Her mother dies. Her father dies. One of her sons is born prematurely and requires special aid. A daughter commits suicide. She manages through it all and marries the novelist and playwright Michael Frayn in 1993.
She continues to write into her late 80s. Along the way, she meets some of the greatest writers and authors of modern times. As with anyone who lives into their 90s, it seems Claire Tomlin has had an eventful and good life, but it required grit and determination. Something one cannot help but admire is that Tomalin is a woman of substance.